Statement of Solidarity: UK Classics representative bodies deplore attacks on Arts and Humanities across Higher Education institutions
As a united group comprising Chairs and Presidents of the primary representative bodies for Classics professionals in the UK – the Council of University Classical Departments, the Classical Association, the Institute of Classical Studies, the Women’s Classical Committee UK, the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, and the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies – we wish to express our solidarity with all those affected by the deeply worrying programme of closures and redundancies in the Arts and Humanities announced this month across institutions, including Bishop Grosseteste, De Montfort, Dundee, Roehampton, and Wolverhampton.
As institutions working in Classics, we deplore, and are angry at, attacks on Classics at Roehampton. The University’s decision to close Classics comes only months after a celebration of 21 years of Classics at Roehampton – two decades of pioneering research and teaching. The University’s research culture has historically stressed and rewarded the production of high-quality academic publications, and many areas of its School of Humanities and Social Sciences have been strong in this regard, notably Classics, which has led the way in terms of the institutional aims around practical humanities, applied research and innovation.
Classics at Roehampton has been at the forefront of world-leading research in feminist and disability studies in Classics, and its closure would be damaging to the discipline as a whole. Roehampton has also been exemplary in creating teaching practices for neurodivergent students in Classics, and the loss of this Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion work sets back efforts in this area, which are of incalculable value to all students. Indeed, major publications are forthcoming from Roehampton Classicists around their projects on Classics and autistic children, involving partners such as English Heritage, Keats House, and Pupil Referral Units. Other important, ongoing, collaborations include the Acropolis Museum, Athens, and Heritage of London’s ‘Proud Places’; these are precisely the kinds of projects and partnerships through which Classics at Roehampton has fantastic potential to develop its already highly successful practical and employability training for students.
Classics at Roehampton, since its inception, has championed employability; as a team it earned the Roehampton Teaching Fellowship for embedding employability into the classical programme, and its research and teaching staff have published around pedagogy and employability in Classics in high quality, peer-reviewed journals and held sessions on student employability at major national and international conferences. This work has blazed a trail, and has directly and positively impacted on the development of comparable initiatives at other institutions. Classics at Roehampton is in fact at the forefront of moving the subject, and by extension the institution, towards practical focused and employability training with potential for exceptional Graduate Outcomes.
More broadly, the effects that these cuts would have on access to Higher Educationare potentially devastating. Classics and Ancient History in particular are far too often considered the preserve of Russell Group institutions with Classics or Greek & Latin departments, whose entrance criteria and history of systemic under-privileging of first-generation students, BAME students, and state-school-educated students are well-known; Roehampton Classics colleagues have in fact been instrumental in working with colleagues in such departments to make headway in terms of inclusion. Classics at Roehampton bucks this entry trend and is already significantly boosting and broadening access to these subjects: Roehampton’s Classics courses were ranked fifth in the UK in the 2020 Guardian league table, one of only two non-Russell Group universities in the top ten for the subject, with exceptionally high scores for teaching satisfaction (96%), on a par with Durham and St. Andrews. In the most recent NSS survey, Classics received a score of 100%, showing colleagues’ outstanding level of successful teaching.
Roehampton has great experience in teaching students who have had little previous formal education in Classics, and who have entered university from less privileged backgrounds. Many of them are the first in their family to go to university. Roehampton Classics is a partner in a growing number of non-RG institutions offering this subject to diverse student bodies, the Post92Classics Network, who are collectively at the heart of invigorating the shape of the discipline for future generations in a changing world; indeed Roehampton Classics is very much a leading light in this regard.
As with Arts and Humanities subjects more broadly, Classics encourages and develops appreciation of cultural, religious and linguistic diversity, while broadening students’ horizons to a global range of philosophical and intellectual outlooks that have influenced modern thought; it teaches critical thinking and analysis of complex source material in a range of languages, and requires students to view humanity through a critical lens, with empathy. Classics in such educational contexts has the transformative power to engage students in discussion around a wide range of cultures, religions, ethnicities, genders, sexualities and disabilities, across huge spans of space and time. These are not soft skills, nor are they fringe topics. They are vital skills and perspectives for modern life, and indeed the cornerstone of good training both for social and civic participation, and for employability.
Studying the Arts and Humanities can be transformative for students: over their time at Roehampton, students expand their cultural horizons, and build their employable and creative skills. Further, they become active, empowered citizens. The University’s stated rationale for its decision to close these subjects is in fact at odds with the likely outcome of this action. The University’s objective in terms of sustainability of programmes in growing fields, especially those with emerging markets of future economy and society, is one which Classics is extremely well positioned to achieve and at which to excel. There is potential here for multidisciplinary work to develop and further embed employability into its teaching, as evidenced by recent programme revalidations, particularly in areas of institutional strategic importance such as Roehampton’s BA in Liberal Arts and its MAs in Cultural Heritage and Environmental Studies.
The loss of any Classics provision will undoubtedly hurt the Classics community as a whole, but the loss of Roehampton in particular would diminish our field, and its potential loss is symptomatic of the damage caused by competition for its own sake, that has been actively encouraged by successive governments. Higher Education departments need time, space, collaboration and long-term team-building to provide an excellent education and student experience. Roehampton Classics has built up such a team and collaborations both national and international, including for example major international AHRC, ERC, DFG, Loeb Foundation and Leverhulme Trust grants. The loss of Classics at Roehampton would leave a massive hole. University management and government higher education policy are together destroying a long-cherished site, like Erysichthon cutting down the grove of Demeter. Such willful destruction of Arts and Humanities in UK Higher Education cannot be allowed to stand.
CUCD, Council of University Classics Departments, Chair: Prof Helen Lovatt
WCC UK, Women’s Classical Committee UK, Co-Chairs: Dr April Pudsey & Dr Ulriika Vihervalli, Administrator: Prof Laurence Totelin
ICS, Institute of Classical Studies, Director: Prof Katherine Harloe
SPHS, Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, President: Prof Paul Cartledge
SPRS, Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, President: Prof Roy Gibson
CA, Classical Association, Chair of Council: Prof Douglas Cairns
The Women’s Classical Committee UK is very pleased to launch the Caring in Classics Network. The Network aims to support people of all genders and at all career stages who are affected by caring. This includes, but is not limited to, care for older people, care for younger people, children, and infants, care for disabled people, and kinship care. Whilst COVID-19 has impacted on every country in the world, the pandemic is not universally experienced. Stark inequalities experienced by those who provide or receive care have been revealed by the pandemic, which has worsened existing disadvantages. The Network aims to provide support particularly during, but also beyond, the pandemic.
The Network has created a new WCC UK policy document, Guidelines for Supporting Carers and Organising Events. It is available for download here. These guidelines are designed to assist those who are organising conferences and other events to support those participating in events who have or are affected by caring responsibilities. The provision of support for those with caring responsibilities is a central strategy for ensuring gender diversity and inclusion.
The Network is organising regular and online ‘coffee-hour’ style meet-ups for members of the Women’s Classical Committee (UK) who are affected by care to come together in an informal and private community setting.
The next Caring in Classics Network Meet-up will be held on Zoom on Wednesday 24 February, 15.00-16.00 GMT. Please email victoria.leonard at coventry.ac.uk for details of how to join the meeting. The time and date of the meetings will not be within a set pattern in order to maximise attendance. There will be break-out rooms available within the meeting, depending on attendance numbers.
The Network is led by Ellie Mackin Roberts, Adrastos Omissi, Rosalind Janssen, and Victoria Leonard. If you would like to get more involved with the Network, please email womensclassicalcommittee at gmail.com.
I’m delighted to have been invited here to meet with you all—I was at the Feminist Sandpit in 2016, and have followed your activities with interest. Today’s topic of activism is one dear to my heart, and though I am mostly speaking from my US perspective, I anticipate a lively and informative discussion and look forward to moving forward together. Building coalitions is essential for progress.
First, I would ask what we even mean by activism in this context. Not much of what we do as academics counts as activism in the most obvious and political sense. Participating in world or local politics may even conflict with our professional roles. When I was in grad school in Chicago, for instance, feminist and anti-war demonstrations and meetings were all around me. How engaged could I be, given my time in the library instead of on the picket line? Then there is the question of what we study. The intellectual or academic branches of the civil rights and women’s movements (and later gay rights movement) have attacked the traditional curriculum, and in particular its domination by dead white men. Classics certainly seemed guilty as charged—a canon of works by dead white men taught mostly by (barely) living white men. And the history of the field supports this critique because of the gate-keeping function of the study of ancient languages; classics was a central part of a liberal education, taken for granted for middle and upper class men. It was decidedly not useless knowledge: as Chris Stray and Phiroze Vasunia among others have argued, a classical education helped in the formation of white male elites and led to jobs in colonial management. Women and people of color were excluded.
The construction of antiquity as white and European persists in very troubling ways. In the last year, the web-based right-wing group Identity Europa has emerged and energetically claimed ancient imagery as its “own,” making reclaiming it part of America’s “becoming great again,” posting flyers on campuses in 2016. The former APA, now Society for Classical Studies in the US, replied first by defining antiquity as
“a complex place, with a vast diversity of peoples, languages, religions, and cultures spread over three continents, as full of contention and difference as our world is today.” The statement then turns explicitly ideological: “the Society strongly supports efforts to include all groups among those who study and teach the ancient world, and to encourage understanding of antiquity by all. . . As scholars and teachers, we condemn the use of the texts, ideals, and images of the Greek and Roman world to promote racism or a view of the Classical world as the unique inheritance of a falsely-imagined and narrowly-conceived western civilization.”
Like many others of you, I’m sure, I am suspicious of traditional claims for classics’ importance and transcendent value; that tactic was associated with the denigration of other traditions. We have to find new reasons to study antiquity, especially as we do “outreach,” or “public engagement”; if we are selling the Ancient World, we have to ask why we are doing so (more on that later). In a recent article in Eidolon, Johanna Hanink put it this way: “the hard and rewarding work lies in figuring out how to keep doing what we do — studying antiquity and its legacy — while at the same time acknowledging, and further exposing, the damage done by the old hard line on Classics and “Western civilization.”
Classicists have responded to challenges to the field (the critique from the left, the unwelcome support from the right, and I would include here the nonpartisan attacks on the humanities as useless) over the last thirty or so years. In fact, like other disciplines, we have been mobilized by the women’s movement, civil rights and anti-colonialist struggles, the gay rights movement, and more recently by a growing disability rights movement. In the rest of the paper I’ll be looking first at activism in scholarship and teaching, then at efforts to change the profession, and finally at the ways in which classicists have been using classics outside the profession. Of course, the four social movements don’t fit neatly into the three topics, and there are some overlaps. But I hope you will be able to follow!
The Women’s Classical Committee UK has put together this guidance to encourage colleagues putting together collaborative academic enterprises to consider how they might increase the diversity of their line-ups, and reach out to people who are currently not represented in a wide range of prestigious academic activity. This problem doesn’t just surface in classics – in 2012, Nature ran the numbers on who they were
asking to act as referees for their papers, who they were profiling, and who was writing Comment
and World View articles. They found that despite having a gender balance at the editorial and
reporting level, they were asking a significantly lower proportion of women to take on these more
visible, ‘authoritative’ tasks. This issue particularly affects graduate and early career colleagues, while established colleagues may find themselves refusing invitations sent to them because they are the only ‘visible’ woman in a given field.
‘How to Avoid a Manel and Beyond’ is designed as a straightforward and approachable guide to the issue for colleagues organising events, and for those wanting to raise issues with other colleagues in a constructive way. We encourage you to download the guidance, direct people to it, send it to people you think will benefit from it, and use it yourself.
We envisage this document as an evolving work in progress that will be updated to reflect best practice over time. If you have any thoughts or feedback, please do e-mail us at womensclassicalcommittee AT gmail DOT com.
BULLYING AND HARASSMENT IN THE UK CLASSICAL WORKSHOP: FINDING SOLUTIONS
Women’s Classical Committee Workshop
Monday September 11th 1-5 p.m.
University of Roehampton, London
Organised by Susan Deacy, Fiona McHardy and Katerina Volioti
Deadline for abstracts: Friday 10 August 2017
This event takes place at a time when various groups are coming together in the UK and internationally to discuss workplace bullying and harassment and to seek solutions. The issue is high on the agenda of the Women’s Classical Committee UK, which conducted a survey in 2016 asking for feedback on experiences of gendered bullying and sexual harassment. A paper in Cloelia in 2016 by two of the current event’s organisers explored the responses to this survey while also presenting the experiences of other classicists.
One goal of this workshop is to look in further depth at some of the *problems* in Classics. For example, we should like to look at where issues of gender intersect with mental health, age, disability and status. We also anticipate a discussion around whether the perpetuation of ‘traditional’ views of Classics might be fostering a culture where bullying and harassment can endure.
But: our key goal is to move from identifying problems to finding *solutions*. We take inspiration, here, from the ongoing moves in Classical women’s networks in North America and Australasia to tackle issues in the discipline by cooperation, including by those who have themselves suffered unpleasant experiences in the workplace. Our quest will also be informed by initiatives beyond Classics, including the 1752 Group, which is developing strategies for combatting sexual misconduct at UK HEIs.
The Women’s Classical Committee UK invites proposals for brief papers (15-20 minutes) on any aspect relating to the topic. We warmly encourage Classicists at any career stage and of any gender to submit abstracts.
Please send abstracts of 200 words max to Susan Deacy – s.deacy AT roehampton.ac.uk – by 10 August 2017.
Supported by the Women’s Classical Committee UK and by the award money from a National Teaching Fellowship 2015. The National Teaching Fellowship Scheme is funded by the three funding councils for England, Northern Ireland, and Wales and administered by the Higher Education Academy.